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Wildfires Threaten California Wine Regions

Tasting rooms close in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, but vineyards have not been threatened

Lynn Alley
Posted: August 17, 2009

Two wildfires burning in two separate regions of California have winery personnel wringing their hands.

One wildfire, dubbed the Lockheed Fire, started Wednesday night in a Lockheed facility in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The fire has burned 6,843 acres so far and as of Sunday afternoon was 50 percent contained. The area is known for its plethora of small, independent wineries whose owners often live on site.

Residents of the tiny community of Bonny Doon have been evacuated and at least two wineries, Beauregard Vineyards, located in the former Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting room, and McHenry Vineyards in Felton have been temporarily closed and personnel evacuated from the area.

An employee at Bonny Doon’s Santa Cruz tasting room said that except for road closures and ash falling, no wineries are currently in the direct path of the fire. “Here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, fires are getting to be a yearly event. We deal with this all the time,” said Bonny Doon tasting room employee Lara Yurman.

Down in the Central Coast region, another wildfire, dubbed the La Brea Fire, is estimated to now be 50 percent contained. To date, the fire has burned 85,686 acres in the Los Padres National Forest east of the town of Santa Maria with 1,859 firefighters battling the blaze.

Kenneth Volk Vineyards and Byron Vineyard and Winery in the Tepusquet Canyon area have been closed, but other wineries in the region remain open. U.S. Forest Service Special Agents and Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit revealed over the weekend that the La Brea fire was started by a campfire at a marijuana drug trafficking operation run by Mexican nationals in a remote region within the forest.

“Last night, I could see the smoke and ashes are everywhere, all the way out to Lompoc,” said a tasting room spokesperson at nearby Zaca Mesa Winery. And the tourists? “They just keep on coming.”

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